Behind the Green Door
by Fr. Mark Pranaitis
Pedestrians on the busy Rue de Sevres in Paris can be forgiven for unknowingly walking by the Maison Mère, the Vincentian motherhouse, as they make their way to shops, cafes, or the Paris Metro. There is little to call their attention to the marvelous little world that is behind the green double doors at #95.
Those who do walk through those doors first see a statue of St. Vincent dePaul, above a gracious courtyard, welcoming them. Once inside the building, just beyond the reception desk, we have a museum that includes many of Vincent’s personal belongings, his cassock, house slippers, and prayerbook among them. There is plenty more Vincentian history on display too.
This sprawling building with its four floors and very long hallways, is the international home of the Congregation of the Mission, where Vincentian priests and brothers have lived, prayed, studied, served, and more since the early 19th century. While St. Vincent (1581-1660) founded the Congregation in 1625, we didn’t move onto this property until after the French Revolution (1789-1799) during which we lost our first motherhouse, the Priory of St. Lazare (Lazarus) where we and St. Vincent lived from 1632-1792. It is because of our connection to this, long-ago demolished, priory that we are called “Lazarists” in France and other French-speaking countries.
While our administrative headquarters is in Rome, Paris is our spiritual home. It is the city where St. Vincent lived and worked for many years. This house, our Maison Mère is the place where his legacy is preserved, his history displayed, and where he still seems to preside.
While we built this house for ourselves, we long have been welcoming guests to join us. Many groups use our meeting facilities, dining room, and guest rooms find them to be exactly what they need, a place to gather to talk, to rest, and to make decisions about the future and how they are being called to serve.
Similarly, others come to make a retreat or to have study days. There is something delightful about seeing people spill out of our meeting rooms and dining room into our garden where they all admit the busy life of the city seems far, far away. There is a quiet here we all enjoy.
Everyone loves the chapel! It is the first thing those early Vincentians set out to build. They envisioned a chapel worthy of enshrining the relics of St. Vincent dePaul. By every measure they succeeded, leaving for us a gasp-worthy space that gives glory to God for raising up this patron of the poor, this mystic of charity, St. Vincent dePaul.
People come to this chapel to join us for Eucharist on Sundays and weekdays, or to pray quietly. There is something about being close to St. Vincent himself and to the other holy men and women memorialized in our chapel that makes it a place of pilgrimage for members of the Vincentian Family and for others as well.
We are in the midst of an extensive renovation of our Maison Mère. This house is a treasure, and we want to make sure that 400 years from now, when the Congregation is celebrating 800 years of service to God’s beloved poor, it is still here and still a place where people grow in holiness.
Our renovation is a slow and careful process. We are preserving and protecting the reasons why people come here while also making the place accessible to everyone, comfortable for our overnight guests and those who come for meetings and more. In the end, this house will be better, not different.
Will you help us make this possible? Will you help us ensure this treasure that carries so much of our history has a long future? We welcome your gift and your presence. To give, please visit here.